[NOTE: On Tuesday, June 19, the 2012 Juneteenth Parade will begin at 10 a.m. at the corner of MLK Blvd. and Comal St. and wind up with daylong festivities at Rosewood Park. The Travis County Democratic Party will march with our banner, and we invite you to join us!]
Politics are off the table for Danny Thomas on Juneteenth, a commemoration of June 19, 1865, when Texans finally got the news, nearly three years after the fact, that President Lincoln had abolished slavery.
Although it is now celebrated in 39 states and the District of Columbia, Juneteenth is a Texas holiday, and Austin is gearing up for its annual celebration. Like most African-Americans — and increasingly people of all colors — Thomas spends June 19th with friends and family, celebrating and remembering the meaning of the day.
Now the Constable in Precinct 1, Thomas has been a prominent Austinite for decades. He attended public schools here, graduated from Anderson High and was in the first graduating class of Austin Community College, where he studied criminal justice. After more than 20 years with the Austin Police Department, he was elected to the City Council for two terms and then successfully ran for Travis County Constable.
Multi-tasking while chatting on his speaker phone, Constable Thomas shared his thoughts about Juneteenth.
QUESTION: What is your role in this year’s Juneteenth celebration?
THOMAS: The Greater East Austin Youth Association puts it together every year, but the deputies help with security. We volunteer our time. As usual, I will be participating in the parade and do some volunteer time.
QUESTION: Besides the Parade, what will you do to personally celebrate on June 19th?
THOMAS: I do spend time with my wife and my brother from Fort Worth. He usually comes down, and we do some cooking. I used to go to the country where my parents lived — in Grimes County (southeast of College Station), the little city of Anderson. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that since I got elected, so now we sit around and spend time at the house. We still cook and eat!
QUESTION: Growing up, how did you and your family celebrate the holiday?
THOMAS: As a kid the main Juneteenth celebration was in the country. We had parades and activities in the park. We would all sit down and eat and then have a rodeo. It was an African-American rodeo, and 60 to 70 percent of my relatives participated in it.
QUESTION: How about you? Did you ride the bucking broncos?
THOMAS: No, the Constable doesn’t get on a horse! When I was young, I was always scared of them. Still am.
QUESTION: Do you think people are as aware as they should be of the history and significance of the day? People have picnics and parades, but do young people today really know why Juneteenth is important?
THOMAS: My parents were very much historians, and they always talked about how Juneteenth started, why we celebrate — that it was about slaves in Texas and how late it was before they heard about emancipation. My parents believed in letting us know that we are proud people, so they always talked about the history. They only finished the seventh and fifth grades in school, but they were both excellent readers and believed in education. They bought encyclopedias for us. So Juneteenth wasn’t just a time to eat barbecue at our house.
QUESTION: You have grown children now. Did you pass on that history to them when they were young?
THOMAS: Very much so. We sat down and explained it to them. They were inquisitive, so they wanted to know. I also passed it down to my grandchildren.
QUESTION: Do you have a message for people in Austin and Travis County that you want to share about Juneteenth?
THOMAS: Just come out to Juneteenth and celebrate and talk to the people who participate. Come to the parade and go down to the park. I just hope everybody comes and enjoys themselves and remembers what it’s all about.